Kellogg’s Tony the Tiger. Photo: Kellogg

Cartoon Characters Banned for Food Packaging in Mexico

By AMILCAR RIERA

Starting on April 1, packaged food items in Mexico bearing warning labels will no longer be able to showcase cartoon characters in advertisements and in their packaging.

This will constitute the next step in the government’s food warning label law, implemented in 2020, to curb the consumption of junk food in a nation with nearly two-thirds of its population either obese or overweight.

The objective in banning these animated characters is to stop encouraging children from consuming sugar-laden products.

Javier Zuniga, a legal representative of the NGO El Poder del Consumidor (Consumer’s Power), one of the organizations which proposed this warning labels, said that this action can be seen as a motivation for companies to modify their products, to make them healthier and help reduce consumption of sugar in children.

“These cartoon characters on product packages are intended to appeal to children in the supermarkets and persuade them to want to consume the product,” he said.

Parents often cannot resist the “pester” power of their children and agree to buy the products.

Similar bans have already been implemented in countries like Chile, Peru and Uruguay in an attempt to prevent the increase in childhood obesity, diabetes, heart diseases and other disorders associated to poor eating habits.

Zuniga said that if a company complies with the sugar limitation requirements in the case of a particular product, the product in question will not bear any warning label so the cartoon character can therefore be showcased.

At the same time, he also said that the limitations in the quantities of sugar, fat and calories in food will be stricter in the future.

“In three years, stricter rules will take place, and in five years, we are going to see the definitive standards,” Zuniga said.

He said that this achievement was made possible through the cooperation of different organizations within Mexico’s Nutritional Health Alliance.

This crusade started back in 2008, with the objective of demanding transparency from companies in the publication of ingredients used in ultra-processed food.

Zuniga said that after substantiated studies, a number of organizations, including his own, realized that processed foodstuffs, which accounts for most of the packaged food, contained high levels of sugar, fat and sodium, and consumers were not informed of that.

Last year, Mexican consumers began seeing numerous products in stores and supermarkets bearing a black octagon label warning of excess of sugar, fat, calorie or sodium content.

These informational labels complied with the new food warning label law (NOM051), which came into force on Oct. 1, although a few companies started printing the warning labels a few months earlier.

According to Zuniga, after the implementation of the warning label law, some products that used to have too much sugar or sodium were reformulated so that the black label would be removed from their package.

“We have seen a positive impact,” he said.

“I now call on companies to continue with the adjustments, to make a difference commercially and to be a benchmark in this movement against unhealthy ingredients.”

…Jan. 22, 2021

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